Can DOE build a better electric car battery?
Last week, the Department of Energy's ARPA-E program announced funding for a new program aimed at rethinking electric car batteries. The program recognizes that significant breakthroughs in battery chemistry and vehicle architecture are crucial for electric cars to compete with internal combustion vehicles, Nicholson writes.
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On the other end of the spectrum, four of the funded projects in the RANGE program focus on integrating EV batteries into the vehicle structure itself, which could reduce vehicle weight, increase driving range, and strengthen safety standards. One such project run by UC San Diego, funded at $3.49 million, is developing EV batteries as part of the vehicle’s support structure, which will be incorporated into a redesign of the standard vehicle frame. The principle investigator on the project, Professor Yu Qiao commented, “According to our analysis, if low-cost, relatively-high-energy batteries can be robust and multifunctional with the vehicle structure redesigned, drive range can be increased to 250-300 miles at an affordable price.” The project’s work focuses on creating batteries that can continue to operate safely and efficiently under adverse conditions, in addition to improving EV cost and performance.Skip to next paragraph
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Dr. Martin noted that “these formable batteries can potentially be placed in many different spaces in the car or distributed throughout the frame,” which would allow EV batteries to operate not as a separate technical system from the rest of the vehicle, but as a single but multifunctional technology. As limited driving range continues to be a significant strike against existing EVs, these transformative projects that rethink vehicle “architecture” to decrease vehicle weight and increase range could be adopted by industry in the near-term.
Getting EVs Cheaper than Combustion Engine Vehicles
ITIF noted in its 2012 report, Shifting Gears: Transcending Conventional Economic Doctrines to Develop Better Electric Vehicle Batteries, that electric vehicles still lag far behind conventional vehicles in reliability and continue to be prohibitively expensive for most car-buying Americans. Until EVs can match the cost and performance of conventional gas vehicles, widespread deployment is unrealistic. Consistent and substantial investment in battery system innovation is necessary to address the remaining economic and technical challenges facing EVs.
The RANGE projects represent public investment in energy innovation at its best and could improve battery life, system design, and cost. As Mr. Burz also noted, “The role of ARPA-E in our technology’s development will be significant. They recognized the game-changing aspect of the technology and were willing to take a risk where the commercial investment community would not…The economy of innovation is by necessity risky because that is where the possibility of great gains lies.”
These revolutionary approaches to designing electric vehicles enable the possibility of “drop-in” replacements for conventional gas vehicles in the future. The RANGE program is another strong example of the inspired and bold mission of ARPA-E to identify and address areas of technical weakness within the energy ecosystem through effective investments in ground-breaking projects.
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